The Middle East Channel

Turkey Blocks Twitter Ahead of Local Elections

Turkey's courts have blocked Twitter ahead of local elections set to begin on March 30. The move came just hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a rally on the campaign trail, "Twitter and the rest, we will root out all of them. I don't care what the international community says, they will see the power of the Republic of Turkey." When trying to access the site, users have reported being redirected to a message by Turkey's telecommunications regulator citing a court order to apply "protection measures" on the website. Turkey is within the top ten countries for number of Twitter users in the world, but it is being criticized as joining the ranks of North Korea, Iran, and Syria in repression of social-media. However, Turkish residents are still able to access Twitter through the site's SMS service. Twitter played a major role in Turkey's protests in the summer of 2013 and has been a vehicle for the release of wire tapping recordings in a recent corruption scandal. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said complete social media bans are unacceptable, and circumvented the block tweeting "I hope this implementation won't last long." Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said it will file a legal challenge on Friday to the court decision to block Twitter access, and is additionally planning to file a criminal complaint against Erdogan for violating personal freedoms.  

Syria

The Syrian army seized a historic Crusader castle Thursday. The Crac des Chevaliers, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates to the 12th century, had been a symbolic rebel stronghold. The victory came as part of a string of battlefield gains in a regime offensive to reclaim rebel held territory along the Lebanese border and sever opposition supply lines. Government forces have overtaken at least four towns and villages in the region in the past two weeks including Yabroud and al-Hosn. With three years of fierce fighting sparking mass refugee flows, Syrians topped the world's list of asylum seekers for the first time in 2013. According to a UNHCR report released Friday, in 2013, 56,351 Syrians sought asylum, more than double the number in 2012. Most have been turning to Europe, and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Anotonio Guterres said, "There is clear evidence in these numbers of how the Syria crisis in particular is affecting countries and regions of the world far removed from the Middle East."

Headlines  

  • The United States has canceled a summit planned this month between President Obama and Gulf leaders over splits with allies in the region, however he will still meet with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Riyadh.
  • Lebanon's parliament has approved a newly-formed cabinet breaking a political deadlock and giving the country a fully empowered government for the first time in over a year.
  • The Israeli army has discovered what it has described as one of the longest and most advanced tunnels running from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel found to date.
  • As Iranians celebrate the New Year, price increases for energy and commodities are overshadowing festivities and hopes for President Rouhani's promised economic recovery fade.

Arguments and Analysis

'Saudi Arabia's Muslim Brotherhood predicament' (Stéphane Lacroix, Washington Post)

"Although this isn't the first strain in the Saudi-Muslim Brotherhood relationship, the kingdom is unlikely to backtrack on its anti-Islamist stance -- at least anytime soon. The royal family is now convinced by the argument, often made by UAE officials, that the Muslim Brotherhood and all similar groups represent an existential threat for Gulf monarchies. Seen from Riyadh, the solution is to turn the clock back to the pre-1970s era, when the official religious establishment's quietist brand of Salafism had a monopoly over Saudi Islam. In a globalized kingdom with the largest proportion of social media users in the world, this will not easily succeed."

'Iraq's Do-Nothing Legacy' (Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Defense One)

"'We may think Iraq is done, but Iraq isn't,' says former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who served in Baghdad from 2007 to 2009. 'Once you are in, you are in. You can have a great philosophical debate about whether it was wise or not, but it doesn't affect the reality; you are there.'

Only America isn't there. Iraq is largely on its own -- and largely by its own request -- to build institutions, battle an insurgency and fight back against sectarian violence taking hold across the region fueled by Syria's chaos."

-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Nearly Half of Syria’s Chemical Stockpile Has Been Removed

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that nearly half of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal has been removed from the country for destruction abroad. The OPCW issued a statement Wednesday saying 45.6 percent of Syria's chemicals have been exported so far in 10 shipments, including two over the past week that included some of the regime's most lethal chemicals. The Syrian government has asked to be given until April 27 to remove its complete stockpile, which is two and a half months after the initial deadline. It remains unclear if a dispute over Syria's 12 chemical production facilities has been settled. Syria has proposed sealing the facilities, keeping them intact, which the United States has demanded Syria destroy them. Meanwhile, Syrian government forces and Hezbollah fighters ambushed dozens of wounded rebel fighters as they attempted to flee the besieged area of al-Hosn in Homs province. The attack came as part of a regime offensive working to reclaim territories along the Lebanese border, and after Syrian troops recaptured al-Hosn. Eleven armed men were reportedly killed in Thursday's ambush, and 41 wounded Syrian rebels crossed over a river into Lebanon. The intense clashes provoked Syrian troops to close the Bqaiaa border crossing into the neighboring country.

Headlines

  • Iran and world powers appeared to reach no agreements in nuclear talks though discussions were described as "useful and substantive" and the parties scheduled the next round of negotiations for April 7-9.
  • Violence across Iraq has killed up to 46 people with clashes between government forces and militants in Fallujah and a suicide attack at a café in Baghdad.
  • Saudi Arabia has sentenced 13 men to up 14 years in prison for supporting Islamist militants, aiding terrorism, and assisting fighters in traveling to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
  • Turkey's parliament rejected an opposition demand for the full reading of judicial records outlining graft charges against four former ministers inciting allegations that Prime Minister Erdogan is attempting a cover-up ahead of elections.

Arguments and Analysis

'Ask a professional: security and democracy in Tunisia' (Haykel Ben Mahfoudh and Fabio Merone,  Arab Awakening)

"The IM [Interior Ministry] -- as it is now in Tunisia -- is a system that must learn to act according to the interest of the people and not that of a particular political power. It is the same problem that we have throughout the whole Public Administration (PA). At the time of Ben Ali, the entire system was under very strong pressure to conform to one interest. It worked in a way that each person responsible for a department entirely depended on those ranked above him. The upper level of the ladder was not the Director of the Interior Ministry, not even the Minister himself. Instead, every decision went back to the special consultants of the presidency. Ben Ali had special counsellors, the real initiators of every  activity. Whatever was done was an implementation of an order coming from the ‘palace'. What is clear is that before activating this order system, every counsellor talked to Ben Ali in person in a way that ensured that the entire apparatus was managed directly from Ben Ali's hands. This system of command created the paradoxical situation that no lower level of the ranks took a single decision so afraid were they of possible reactions from the palace. The highest cadres were in fact themselves victims of a power system wholly concentrated in Carthage (location of the presidential palace).

This system does not exist any more in the sense of the real climate of fear that pertained at that time. However, the logic of having a structure that solely depends on one man's orders to take any decisions does still exist. This is well known; there is not a clear normative system that allows employees (from the lowest rung of the ladder to the highest ranking cadres) to take a decision or to act according to what is in the interest of the Tunisian people, according to the specific duty he or she serves in his/her respective function. Still today, the key word to make anything move in our administration is taalimat (instructions). Employees are all the time just waiting for instructions. 

This system must change. Without serious legislative reform, the machine will still work with the same instinct, and moreover each new political regime will tend to reproduce the same mechanisms as the old regime when it comes to the security apparatus."

'Down and out in Yabrud and Tripoli: Lebanon suffers Syria's war' (Joyce Karam, Al Arabiya)

"By virtue of geography, demographics, and politics, Lebanon is the most shaken by the conflict out of all Syria's neighbors. From the beginning of the armed struggle, Lebanese fighters crossed the unmarked border into Syria either to help the embattled Assad regime or the rebel groups. Hezbollah's decision, however, to intervene directly and en masse in the Syrian war last May, marked a turning point in the repercussions and the intensity of the spillover into Lebanon.

While Hezbollah defends its involvement as a preemptive strategic measure to protect Lebanon and keep extremists away from the border, so far the move has done the exact opposite. Terrorist groups in Syria such as the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are more prevalent in Lebanon today, and see in Hezbollah's involvement an invitation to strike inside Lebanese territory. The Bekaa bombing on Saturday, claimed by al-Nusra and which took the life of a Hezbollah security member, was the number 14 such attack this year according to Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, and signifies a new trend in the threat facing the country."

-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images